Henry Ford Leaders Plead for Community to Come Together to Slow COVID Spread

November 16, 2021
Bob Riney and Dr. Munkarah

DETROIT (November 16, 2021) – With more than 300 patients hospitalized for COVID-19, Henry Ford Health System implored the community – “in the spirit of Thanksgiving” – to do their part to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

System leaders urged vaccination for people who remain reluctant or hesitant, booster shots for those who are eligible to receive one and mask wearing when indoors – proven public health measures that have shown to be effective during the 20-month-old pandemic. They also announced that vaccinations for established Henry Ford patients ages 5 – 11 will begin Thursday at pediatric and family medicine clinics.

“We have to work harder than we have been to end this pandemic,” Bob Riney, President of Healthcare Operations and Chief Operating Officer, said during a briefing with reporters Tuesday. “We’re asking you to just be smart, for your sake, for your family’s sake and for the community’s sake. And for our healthcare teams who need your help and support.

"We have the tools, and the vaccine is the number one tool in our toolkit. We just have to find a way to get over the hump and get more people vaccinated.”

Increasing COVID hospitalizations could put the health system in a precarious position in the coming weeks, Riney said.

“If we don’t curb the current growth of covid inpatient hospitalizations, there are only so many team members and so many beds in a community. And the math will not work,” he said. “We will have to curtail other operations. We do not want to do that. That’s one of the reasons why we’re asking for everyone’s help.”

Riney said his biggest worry is the “ongoing havoc” on Henry Ford’s healthcare workers who were celebrated and touted as heroes last year. As he rounded on patient units Monday at Henry Ford Hospital, he heard from countless nurses who were “dismayed” at the constant influx of COVID patients, especially those who were unvaccinated and “could have made a different choice.”

“They haven’t gotten a break,” he said. “It’s really hard to explain the kind of stress level when it’s been one surge after another surge.”

Henry Ford reported 330 COVID hospitalizations and another 35 patients in its Emergency Departments with COVID or suspected COVID waiting to be admitted, said Adnan Munkarah, M.D., Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer.  That’s a near 60 percent increase since late October.

The spike in hospitalizations are similar to what Henry Ford experienced during surges in April and May earlier this year and in the fall of 2020.

The highest number of hospitalizations were at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, 81, and Henry Ford Allegiance Health, 77. At least 70-75 percent of the patients hospitalized across Henry Ford’s five hospitals were unvaccinated. The positivity rate was near 20 percent, meaning that one in five people at Henry Ford were testing positive for COVID.

“We cannot emphasize enough that the best way for us to get this under control is by getting vaccinated,” Dr. Munkarah said. “There is no question that vaccines do work. The data has been very consistent and the evidence has been rising both nationally as well as globally. People who are vaccinated are five to six times less likely to get the infection and 10 to 11 times less likely to be hospitalized.”

Dr. Munkarah said parents can begin making appointments for their children ages 5 – 11 Thursday morning. They can schedule an appointment through their MyChart account or by calling their doctor’s office.

“There are plenty of trusted locations offering vaccines including retail pharmacies and health departments,” Dr. Munkarah said. “For those who find it more convenient to do that, please go ahead and schedule an appointment for your children. We are seeing an increasing number of cases among children, especially with people going back to school.”

In addition to the COVID vaccination, Dr. Munkarah strongly endorsed the COVID booster shot for people who are eligible to receive it and the flu shot for anyone 6 months and older. “We don't want to see a flu epidemic or a twindemic where he have both rising COVID cases and flu cases."

With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, Dr. Munkarah and Riney recommended these measures to keep family members safe:

  • Vaccination status is paramount for choosing who to gather with. Choose small groups of vaccinated people
  • COVID testing is a helpful safety measure but remember that it’s only a snapshot in time. It is not a substitute for vaccination
  • Avoid large gatherings
  • If hosting a gathering, open windows so air can circulate. Stagnant air can contribute to the transmission of the virus.

“By all means, if you not feeling well, if you are running a fever, are short of breath, or tired, and suspect your might have flu or COVID, please stay at home so you can protect your loved ones and those around you,” Dr. Munkarah said.

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MEDIA CONTACT: David Olejarz / [email protected] / 313.303.0606

About Henry Ford Health System
Founded in 1915 by Henry Ford himself, Henry Ford Health System is a non-profit, integrated health system committed to improving people’s lives through excellence in the science and art of healthcare and healing. Henry Ford Health System includes Henry Ford Medical Group, with more than 1,900 physicians and researchers practicing in more than 50 specialties at locations throughout Southeast and Central Michigan. Acute care hospitals include Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI and Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson, MI – both Magnet® hospitals; Henry Ford Macomb Hospital; Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital; and Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital.

The largest of these is Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, a quaternary care research and teaching hospital and Level 1 Trauma Center recognized for clinical excellence in cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, neurology, neurosurgery, and multi-organ transplants. The health system also provides comprehensive, best-in-class care for cancer at the Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion, and orthopedics and sports medicine at the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine – both in Detroit. As one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers, Henry Ford Health System annually trains more than 3,000 medical students, residents, and fellows in more than 50 accredited programs, and has trained nearly 40% of the state’s physicians. Our dedication to education and research is supported by nearly $100 million in annual grants from the National Institutes of Health and other public and private foundations.

Our not-for-profit health plan, Health Alliance Plan (HAP) provides health coverage for more than 540,000 people.

Henry Ford Health System employs more than 33,000 people, including more than 1,600 physicians, more than 6,600 nurses and 5,000 allied health professionals.